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There are hundreds of sophisticated marketing tactics that can take your hospital or medical practice to the next level, but you must start with the basics: can patients find you?  There was a time when people in your town who needed your medical care picked up the Yellow Pages and went to the physician or hospital section, but now they’re finding you online.  Or are they?

Attempting to make sense of the ever-changing algorithms that define Google and other search engines—and determine whether you show up in a search—can be overwhelming.  Where does a local medical practice or hospital begin?  The answer for that is Google Local.

What is Google Local?

Google Local, also referred to as Google My Business, is Google’s version of the Yellow Pages, only better.  It is the map section and listings that you now see when you are conducting a local Google search, and it’s vital if you are a local business.

Think about this: every time a patient searches Google for a medical practice by name, or even if he is just searching for something like “dermatologist near me,” he is presented with Google Local listings.  These results contain all the information the potential patient would need to make a decision and call your practice or hospital. Here’s an example of what a Google My Business search result looks like:

With the click of the mouse, patients can view your practice’s or hospital’s name, address, phone number, website, reviews, and driving directions.

More Than a Listing

Your Google Local account is more than a simple listing; it is a tool that you can control and learn from.  On the page owner dashboard, you can track all the activity to your Google Local listing including:

  • Page Views
  • Clicks
  • Requests for driving directions
  • Click-to-calls (how many people called your practice directly from your Google Local page from a mobile device)

Here’s what a typical dashboard looks like:

Management is Simple, Ranking a Little Harder

You don’t have to be a genius programmer to manage your listing. However, getting it to rank on the first page, above your competition, can be tricky.  In fact, there are over 200 ranking factors that Google takes into consideration when they are ranking businesses in the Google Local search results. Here are the top three things you can do today to give yourself the best chance of rising to the top of Google Local’s search results:

1.Claim and Verify Your Page

Google will often create Google Local pages using business data listed on other trusted sources such as Yellowpages.com and the major data aggregators. However, whether or not you already have an existing Google Local page, you need to find it and claim it, or start one from scratch if it doesn’t already exist.

To see if you already have a Google Local page:

  1. Login to your Google account (or start one) and navigate to https://business.google.com/add.
  2. Search for your business name, address, or phone number.
  3. If your business appears, select it and you will be asked to verify by postcard or by phone.

d. If you do not see your business in the dropdown, it likely means that a Google Local page does not currently exist for your business. In that case, select “Add Your Business.”

Here’s the official Google Help Center doc on how to Verify a Local Business on Google.

2. Optimize Your Listing With High Quality Photos

Photos of your practice or hospital are a trust signal to your potential patients as well as Google. They want to see photos that tell your story and make them comfortable—including photos of physicians, as well as your facility’s interiors and exteriors. Last February, Google even added a new photos dashboard that allows you to organize photos by category and choose which one shows on Google Maps.

3. Develop a Google Review Strategy

According to a recent study, the quantity of Google reviews on your page are a top ranking factor.  On top of that, consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. It’s especially true for medical services, so implementing an effective review strategy needs to be at the top of every medical provider’s priority list.

One of the most effective strategies is to create handouts asking patients to leave a review on Google. Design the handout as an instructional piece that first thanks them, then tells them how to leave a review on your Google Local page. Bonus tip: laminate the handouts! This will increase the chance of your patients actually using the handout before dropping it into the round file.

Once you hit five Google reviews, you will have gold stars appear next to your listing in the search results. This has been proven to increase the number of times that potential patients click on your page for more information.

Review snippets will also be pulled into the Local Knowledge Graph when patients are searching for your practice by name. This is incredibly valuable since this is the most visible piece of real estate on the home page of Google when a patient performs a branded search.

The world of Google Local is a complex ecosystem of data. Knowing how to navigate that ecosystem can be the difference between an incredibly successful local healthcare marketing strategy and one that is the same old stuff. These tips will get you started on the path to  success.